Sunday, May 14, 2017

Thy Will Be Done

This has been one of the best months of my life, and it's only 14 days in as of writing these words.

I've shared bits and pieces of my story, but I wanted to sit down and share deeply about who I am, and how I got to where I am right now.

Let me start by rewinding 19 years.

In May of 1998, I was a high school dropout. I had been working as a concrete finisher for a couple of years by this point. We lived in an old mobile home in a very small town about 40 miles from my hometown. Going out to McDonald's would have been an expensive, and extravagant outing. My mom became seriously ill, and almost died. Because she wanted to be closer to her family we moved back there. We were then living in an even older mobile home that only partially had working running water, was missing some windows, and leaked like a cardboard box when it rained. At that point, I didn't know what I was going to do with my life.

On a whim, I walked into Florence-Darlington Technical College in July of 1998. I asked to speak to a guidance counselor and I told her my story. I'm sad to say I do not remember what this lady's name was, but here is what she did: She went and got a placement test of some sort, and had me take it. Something in me must have impressed her. She rushed me through the financial aid process, and I got a full ride based on need. She told me I could start classes in August, but I had to take and pass the GED at it's next offering in September. I took the GED and passed with flying colors.

I continued at FDTC for two semesters, and I transferred into Francis Marion University. I still had a full ride based on a need-based financial aid. Things were going great, until I turned 21. When I turned 21, I discovered alcohol, and it was not good. My grades plummeted, and I dropped out of college in October of 2001.

Let me fast-forward to where I was in 2004.

Many, if not most days of that time in my life, I can guarantee that I drank copious amounts of alcohol. In June of 2004, I would walk out of a job I had fought to get, with no real experience nor a college degree at a software company that served the faith based community.

After I left that job, there were a few months of drinking more heavily than usual. I finally got a job at a national electronics store. After being in that job for about a year, I had a major health crisis. I was out of work for 8 months, and almost died. I won't go into details here, but it wasn't good, other than the fact that as a result of the illness, I stopped drinking.

I managed to get myself, and my life back together, somewhat, and I was able to go back to work at that electronics chain. Once I started back, I worked my way up the "corporate ladder" of that store, and I held several different leadership positions.

Now, fast forward to the where I was in 2007.

You see, I really loved the job and the company I walked out of in 2004. Even though I was being successful at my new job, I continually emailed my former boss. He finally gave me a new interview in 2007, and I was able to start back at my old company, in a better position than the one I walked out of.

Let me fast-forward now to where I was in  2012.

I was working for that same company that served the faith based community, but I hadn't regularly attended church for years. I had drifted from the zeal for Christ and the church I had in my childhood and youth into some sort of agnostic fog of uncertainty. I was earning a good salary, and I had every reason to be happy, but I wasn't.

In May of 2013 I bought a house and moved next door to one of my co-workers. In July of 2013, I went to an event at a church these neighbors invited me to, and I really felt God working in my heart. I knew that I had to get back into church, and I did.

At some point in that year, my pastor was out of town and as a guest preacher was the music minister's son-in-law. All I knew about him was that he was in Seminary "up in Wake Forest". I felt a a very strong twinge in my heart when he was introduced. Instantly and completely out of the blue, what popped into my head was "I wish I could go to Seminary." Almost as instantly as I thought that, I was confused as to why I would think that. It's funny to think now, but then, I did not even know that Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary existed. To me, "up in Wake Forest" meant at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem (I was at least smart enough to know that WFU was not in Wake Forest).

I felt a call to ministry when I was very young. I used to preach to people in waiting rooms, in line at the grocery store...wherever people couldn't get away from me. Everyone thought it was cute then, but it was real. When I was a bit older, about 14, I felt the call again, and did nothing to act on it. This time, it was back, it was real, and it was insatiable. I hadn't read anything longer than a blog-post in years and I was devouring every theological book I could get my hands on, and most importantly I was devouring the Bible.

I did eventually find out that the young man that preached that Sunday did not go to WFU, but to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. By this time I had already researched, heard about, and been recommended to other schools, but I knew without a doubt I was going to Southeastern I had a clear and definite call to come here, and I came.

I never came up for a campus tour, a preview day or anything. I applied in June, was accepted in July and I drove to Wake Forest for the very first time on August 8, 2014 and lived in a small room in a house set up as dorms for older, single male students. As I mentioned above, my mom hasn't been in good health for years. She is doing better now than she has in years, but I still did not want her to stay by herself. Plus she has very limited resources, and wouldn't be able to support herself alone. So she's here too, we now live in a campus apartment in family housing, and she's our building's Grandma of sorts. She loves having all the children around.

This past Friday, on May 12 was probably the most emotional day I've ever had.

Now I don't show emotion much. I guess that's the introvert in me.

My emotion usually comes out in writing, or tweeting, but it's been strong.

I've never graduated from anything in my life, but on Friday, May 12, 2017, I graduated from college.

God can and does work miracles, and the fact I am here is clear evidence of that. I've now got my B.A. and I'm starting on my M.Div.

I'm still listening to, and discerning God's call, and His will, but I do know one thing: He wanted me at Southeastern, and I am here, and here I am going to stay. I will gladly tell anyone considering Seminary to come here too if you feel God calling you.

This place is special. The leadership and the faculty continue to not only educate, but inspire and encourage me. I still, after three years get excited walking onto campus every day. I love this place, and I know I am where God wants me. I can't wait to see what is ahead, but I know it will be great, because God is great.

At our graduation ceremony, Dr. Akin preached from Philippians 1:21: "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (CSB)." I'm living for Christ now, and I know that when I die, I will gain because I will for eternity be in the presence of Christ.

If God is calling you somewhere, to do something, listen. I earn far less of a salary now than I did when I left my old career, but I now know the joy of following God's will for my life. It's amazing. God can, and will do amazing things if we just listen to him and come when he is calling us.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bible Review: ESV Study Bible, Personal Size, Natural Leather

I just received a copy of the ESV Study Bible, Personal Size, Natural Leather, Brown. I was curious about this Bible when I first saw it was going to be released, so I was happy to be able to get a review copy to check out.

If you have ever seen the ESV Journaling Bible with the "natural" leather and the flap that comes around and ties, that is exactly the kind of leather on this Bible.

The leather is nice, but rugged. One quibble I have is that I wish there were a tad more yapp (or overhang) as it seems pretty flush with the text block. Also, I wish the ribbon were about 1/2-3/4" longer. Because of the thickness of the text block, it feels just a tad unbalanced with cover edges that are so tight against the text block.

The page edges are plain white with no gold gilting. This is a trade-off as some think the gold gives protection, but in reality it usually just gets scratched up and ugly on Bibles which you might use a lot/throw in your bag, etc. However, on this Bible, the text block is quite thick, and (especially when I first saw it) because if the proportions, the white page edges are a bit 'shocking' (I've tried to think of a better word, but that's all I can do). The thickness makes them look especially white, and if they get dirty, they are going to look especially dirty, I'm afraid.

The binding is sewn and lays flat absolutely anywhere. Not one hint of over-tightness (and that's good as this is a fairly thick text block).

While this is a smaller footprint than the "full-size" ESV Study Bible, it's still a chunky book, so be aware of that. However, it is very portable and sits in my hand quite nicely (and I don't have overly large hands).

If you want a portable copy of the ESV Study Bible you can carry around and will hold up to sustained heavy use, I think this is your ticket.

From a durability standpoint I highly recommend this copy, as I think it will stand up very well to heavy, day-to-day usage. From an aesthetic standpoint, that will be more of an issue of if this is within your style or taste.

Finally, one last thing to mention, is I discovered in this Bible there is a new edition of the ESV text. This is a 2016 "Permanent Text Edition". You can find more information here, however the gist is that the ESV translation committee has 52 word changes, some minor addition of some quotation marks, and have stated that this will be the ESV text for the foreseeable future. This made me very happy.

Finally here are some photos so you can check this Bible out for yourself.

*Disclaimer I received my copy gratis from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions stated above are my own honest opinions and I was not required to give a positive review. Thanks!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

I love this place!

I usually say this multiple times a day to myself: I love this place!

I first set foot on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary on August 8, 2014. It was the day before new student orientation for my semester began. I had never even visited the campus before, but I knew that this was where I was supposed to be. I still can't explain it. When God called me to seminary, he didn't just call me to any seminary, he called me to Southeastern.

I love this place! I got choked up the first time I saw the steeple at Binkley chapel. I still get excited as I cross the crosswalk on South Avenue every day as I arrive at campus. I love this place.

I'm a higher education re-tread. I had (foolishly) dropped out of college in 2001, and went on into the workforce. I was 34 years old when I attended my first class at the College at Southeastern. The past few days I've been planning my next two semesters out. They'll be my last two semesters as a "College Student" as I will graduate with my B.A. in May of 2017. Two more semesters. Wow. It feels like I just got here. Thankfully, I have plenty more to learn from the faculty here, as I definitely plan to get my Master's of Divinity and hopefully do Doctoral work here as well.

There is so much to learn, and I love every minute of it. Oh, and I get to work here too. Isn't it amazing what God can do? It's March right now. It would have been March in 2014 when I would have been spending my lunch-break at work at my old job back in South Carolina taking long walks and praying...talking to God, asking for some way for me to be able to come here. There were times when I wasn't sure I'd be able to do it. I was in my mid-30's. Mid career at a good job in the IT industry working for a good company. Some people thought I was crazy for wanting to do this, but mostly everyone I know has been supportive, and I know I have lots of folks from my church back home, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Florence, SC praying for me.

I take school seriously. I work hard, and yet it doesn't feel like work. I love every minute of it.

I love this place!

I thank God every day that I get to be here...that I get to learn here, from this faculty. I love this place!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

We all bear God's image, yet we are all broken.

We all bear God's image, yet we are all broken.

All of us.

A Google search tells me that there are around 4,200 religions in the world today. There are two things that members of each and every one have in common: We all bear God's image, yet we are all broken. All of us, and that includes us Christians. We are just as broken as any, however we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1)

I saw a post on social media the other day that bothered me, and it has stuck with me since. The person who posted wrote that when they looked at Islam, they saw an enemy physically and spiritually, and then closed the post by saying that "Islam must be conquered and those who wish to live must renounce Islam! It is time to put the shoe on the other foot and run them back to the sand!" That was like a punch in the gut to me. This person professes Christ.

That post made me think about the book of Jonah. One of the themes of Jonah is that God's love is not just limited to "us" but also available for "them". It is not just Jonah who is the recipient of God's compassion, but also the pagan sailors and Ninevites. Jonah is unhappy that God saved the Ninevites. However, the pagan sailors, the ship's captain and the king of Nineveh all showed concern that no human beings should perish.

In the great commission, Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations. Not to run them "back to the sand" or to kill them if they don't renounce their religion. Fellow Christians, I urge you: if you meet someone of another faith, try to build a relationship with them, and share Jesus with them. That's what they need. They don't need our hate.

We all bear God's image, yet we are all broken. Members of every religion, as well as agnostics, and atheists are God's image bearers, and all deserve to know Jesus.  Will you show them love? Will you share the good news of Jesus Christ with them?
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:7-21)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Five Reasons I Am Thankful for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Last year my friend Spence Spencer shared a post about why he is thankful for Southeastern. Although he is still working to complete his PhD from Southeastern he has moved to Oklahoma to take an administrative position at OBU. He re-shared his post this morning stating that even though he is in Oklahoma he is still thankful for SEBTS. At the risk of being a copy-cat, I wanted to share the many reasons I am also thankful for Southeastern.

It is hard to believe that it has only been a little over a year since I first arrived at Southeastern Seminary. I never came for a preview day, I never went on a campus tour. I never set foot on this campus until I came to get my key for the little room I stayed in my first semester. I knew, however that this is where I was supposed to be.

It was only a little longer ago than that -- I guess sometime around the end of 2013 when I looked across the table at Hardee's one morning when I was eating breakfast with my pastor and asked him if he thought it would be crazy if I said I wanted to move to NC and attend Southeastern (he said no, it wouldn't by the way). Almost exactly one year ago I decided to put my house in SC on the market and move all of my belongings to an actual apartment here in Wake Forest. It was a little less than a year ago I left the job I'd had for the previous 8 years, as they did not have a full-time remote position for me. As a result of that, the Christmas season of last year (2014) is a blur for me -- it was a period of worry, uncertainty, doubt and a lot of prayer. The more I prayed however, the more I knew I had made the right decision. Soon I was offered a job in IT at Southeastern. That is just one of the many ways this school and the people here have blessed me.

So, here are five reasons I am thankful for Southeastern Seminary:

I am thankful for my job, and the fact that I can serve the faculty, staff and fellow students by working at Southeastern. Since starting in IT I have also been able to begin working with the communications team as the editor for the Between the Times faculty blog. I love both roles immensely.  I have never worked in a better environment. As Spence wrote in his post, I have never received more "Thank You" e-mails and comments than I have while working at Southeastern. This is a workplace where people are genuinely kind.

I am thankful for all of the friends I have made here. I'm thankful for my classmates, my co-workers and I am thankful for my neighbors. Southeastern is such a fantastic community. Southeastern lives up to it's moniker "The Happy Seminary."

I am thankful for the professors here. I started to say the professors I've taken classes with, but it really goes beyond that. Southeastern's faculty is so great. I haven't just learned from professors whose classes I have taken. I have had the opportunity to interact with professors outside of the classroom as well. I try to be a sponge and take any opportunity I can to learn from everyone I can.

I am thankful that Southeastern has instilled in me an even greater love for learning, a love for research, a love for writing, and a love for taking what I learn and making it not simply an academic exercise but always emphasizing the need to turn academic study into practical application.

Although this is the season of thanksgiving, I am thankful for this place every day. I do my best to make sure not a day goes by that I do not stop and thank God for putting me here. I am blessed beyond words by being here. I love this place.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Doug Moo on Romans 13:1-7

I have had Romans 13:1-7 on my mind lately:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

In studying this passage, I have consulted several commentaries, and I really appreciate what Doug Moo has written about this passage: "In demanding 'submission' to the state, Paul is not necessarily demanding obedience to every mandate of the state. Key to this restriction is the recognition that the word 'submit' (hypotasso) in Paul is not a simple equivalent to 'obey' (hypakouo)...[S]ubmission is broader and more basic than obedience. To submit is to recognize one's subordinate place in a hierarchy established by God. It is to acknowledge that certain institutions or people have been placed over us and have the right to our respect and deference. In addition to rulers (see also Titus 3:1), Paul also calls on believers to submit to their spiritual leaders (1 Cor. 16:16) and even to one another (Eph. 5:21-6:9) person is to recognize the rightful leadership role that another human being has in his or her life...[I]t seems to me, we can also, as believers, continue to submit to governing authorities even as, in certain specific instances, we find that we cannot obey them. When they order us to do something incompatible with our allegiance to God, our higher authority, we must, as Peter and John put it, 'obey God rather than men' (Acts 5:29)."

Dr. Moo then goes on to add: "One final word on this issue, however, must respect the intention of this passage. Clearly, it does not intend to encourage disobedience. It warns us agains the danger of ignoring the rightful place government has in God's ordering of the world according to his purposes. Government--and each individual state and ruler--is appointed by God. Christians seeking to do God's will, therefore, recognize the right of the governing authorities to command them to do things, and they should, as much as possible, do what the government says."

And finally: "The debate will no doubt continue; what will be be important is that believers seek to establish what they believe on the basis of all Scripture, not just isolated texts (emphasis mine)."

Monday, August 31, 2015

The NIV Zondervan Study Bible: A Review

I have more than a few Study Bibles. Looking over at my bookshelf I see the following:

  • ESV Study Bible
  • HCSB Study Bible
  • NIV Study Bible (The older one from 2008)
  • New Geneva Study Bible (which later became the Reformation Study Bible)
  • Life Application Study Bible
  • TNIV Study Bible
  • The New Oxford Annotated Bible

Moreover, in addition to these, I have electronic copies of the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible, the ESV Global Study Bible and the MacArthur Study Bible.

Even with all of these wonderful Study Bibles on my shelf I have been eagerly anticipating this new NIV Zondervan Study Bible from the time I first heard about it back in February on Andy Naselli's blog.

A fantastic and diverse team of scholars came together to produce this wonderful resource. D. A. Carson serves as general editor, Desi Alexander, Rick Hess and Doug Moo are the associate editors, and Andy Naselli is the assistant editor.

Listen as D. A. Carson gives an overview of this new Study Bible in the following video:

This study Bible is not merely an update of the old NIV Study Bible (which will stay in print), but has completely fresh content from more than 60 of the worlds finest Biblical scholars. Not only did D. A. Carson serve as general editor, he contributed the notes (co-authored by Andy Naselli) for John, and in addition to serving as associate editor, Doug Moo provided notes for Romans, James, 2 Peter and Jude (2 Peter and Jude co-authored again by Andy Naselli). Great essays have been provided by Jim Hamilton, Kevin DeYoung, Sam Storms, Moisés Silva, Tim Keller and Andreas Köstenberger (just to name a few). A full list of contributors can be found here, and here is a video giving an overview of the team of scholars behind this new study Bible:

Why another Study Bible? 

All of the study Bibles I listed above are outstanding resources. I use them each often. They each bring something unique to the table, and the NIV Zondervan Study Bible is no exception. While many study Bibles focus on Systematic Theology (The ESV Study Bible being an excellent example of a study Bible in this format), the NIV Zondervan Study Bible focuses on Biblical Theology.

Here is a brief video explaining the Biblical Theology approach:

At 2,880 pages and nearly 5 pounds this Bible is an impressive and comprehensive work. There are countless maps, charts, illustrations and photos which bring the world of the Bible into your hands. Together with the other faithful study Bibles on the market, the church is blessed with resources that provide a wealth of knowledge and insight. Also, be sure to check out this page for plenty of resources and samples.

Finally, I know some readers of my blog might not prefer the NIV translation. In fact, some people might intensely dislike the NIV. However, I think we should stop and thank God that we have so many faithful translations of the Bible in our native English language. Just like with study Bibles, each faithful translation of the Biblical text brings something unique to the table. To faithfully exegete a text, several translations should always be consulted (especially if one is not proficient in the source languages). Good Bible translations are helpful resources. It's both-and, not either-or. Along with the KJV, NASB, ESV, and HCSB, the 2011 NIV is a translation I have read from Genesis to Revelation. My only real quibble is "assume authority" in 1 Timothy 2:12, but I have heard and read Doug Moo's explanation of that translation and I respect his view (and he is an complementarian). My thinline NIV is one that regularly makes its way into my backpack. I read from many translations regularly, and I tend to rotate the Bible I carry with me to classes, often to have a different translation than what my professor might be reading from aloud.

This is a fantastic resource that will serve any believer well no matter your preferred translation. I heartily recommend this study Bible to any Christian, and I am thankful for all of the contributors who made this study Bible a reality.

Note: I was provided a copy of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible free of charge for review purposes with no expectation of a favorable review. The opinions expressed above are my own.